Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Over the weekend, the NBA announced that Magic rookie forward Andrew Nicholson would replace injured Pistons center Andre Drummond in the Rising Stars Challenge, joining Nikola Vucevic as the other player representing the Magic at All-Star Weekend in Houston.
While this event is, needless to say, entirely meaningless, it’s a cool honor and a nice gesture on behalf of the league that shows that at least someone has noticed how effective Nicholson has been when he’s been on the floor. Nicholson and Vucevic taking part in this competition is fitting, too, as they have emerged this season as the two most promising young players on Orlando’s roster.
Vucevic has been entrenched as the Magic’s starting center since the start of the season, but Nicholson’s role has been more inconsistent. And while the recent injury to Glen Davis was a heavy blow dealt to the Magic season, his absence in the lineup has opened the door for both of them to take on a greater level of responsibility on the floor. So far, both have delivered.
Vucevic’s rebounding has been mightily impressive the entire season, but he’s been particularly on a tear since Big Baby’s injury in that regard.
In the seven games since Davis went down, Vucevic has averaged 12.0 rebounds per game, as compared to 11.2 in the first 45 games of the season. His rebounding rate has gone up across the board as well. Before Davis’ injury, he pulled down 20.1 percent of all available rebounds, including 12.3 percent of offensive rebounds and 27.7 percent of defensive rebounds. In the past six games, that number has jumped to 21.2 percent, including 13.5 percent of offensive rebounds and 29.8 percent of defensive rebounds. His scoring has spiked too, jumping from 13.3 points per 36 minutes before Davis’ injury to 16.4 points per 36 minutes since.
Nicholson’s efficiency as a scorer has been off-the-charts since Davis’ injury. He was shooting 52.6 percent from the field through the first 45 games and has skyrocketed to 59.0 percent since then. He’s been scoring the same number of points per 36 minutes (around 18) on 3.3 fewer attempts. Here’s his shot chart from before Davis’ injury:
And here’s his chart for the last seven games:
As Nicholson has taken on a larger offensive role, his offense has found itself drawn more towards the basket. He was shooting more consistently from midrange earlier in the season, but he’s cut down on those attempts and instead become more efficient closer to the basket. Over the long haul, if he can retain his ability to hit the outside twos while still focusing on the higher-percentage looks he’s been getting lately, he could prove enormously effective for the Magic going forward.
These numbers aren’t enough of a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions from by any stretch, but they are a preview of the types of rosters Nicholson and Vucevic will be playing for going forward in Orlando.
Big Baby and his contract aren’t a part of Hennigan’s long term plans, and it will make sense in the future to move the team’s veterans and focus instead on the youth movement. Between these Nicholson and Vucevic, the team is in good hands.